By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A set of three tacos. What looks like a burrito. It’s not what you’d expect from traditional Indian food.

“Dare I say [it’s] sexy, down to earth and cheeky,” said Amol Dixit, the founder and CEO of Hot Indian Foods, a Minnesota start-up that began as a food truck and has grown into three restaurants, a catering business and two carts in sports stadiums.

Unlike many food business founders, Dixit is not a chef.

“I spent 15 years at General Mills in marketing, brand is my training,” he said.

Dixit started with the idea of sharing Indian flavors with people who may be intimidated by them. So he put chicken tikka masala in roti bread (an Indian bread the size of a tortilla), rolled it, and called it an Induritto.

He wanted bowls, but with Basmati rice and pork vindaloo or spinach paneer.

He hired a chef to help develop that, and he hired a branding firm to help him realize his vision for the company he was calling “Hot Indian.”

“When I first started thinking of names, they all felt a little too corporate-y. They all had the word masala or bollywood. One day I looked at my wife, who I think is a very attractive Indian woman and I said, ‘What if I just call this thing ‘Hot Indian?’” Dixit said, adding that his wife chuckled at the idea. That’s when he knew he had found the perfect name.

Dixit was worried he couldn’t afford to hire a top branding firm, because as a start-up the budget is tight. But as luck would have it, a local firm that Dixit worked with at General Mills was expanding into entrepreneurial start-up work, and offered him a deal.

“Start-ups can be nimble and agile and insert things like a sense of humor and can do things differently than say, a company you’d see in the cereal aisle that has to appeal to the entire nation,” said JoEllen Martinson Davis, associate creative director at Ultra Creative.

“Amol came to us with the name ‘Hot Indian,’ we helped to imagine and bring to life his ambition,” said Martinson Davis.

Ultra Creative came up with Hot Indian’s logo, a color palette, the initial food truck design; and iteration after iteration of the Hot Indian logo – a fictional woman named Sona.

“We needed a guide,” Dixit said. “This was one of the original faces of Sona. You put a banner in her hand, food on a stick, boom it’s a State Fair logo.” In fact, Hot Indian will be at the Midtown Global Market booth at the 2019 Minnesota State Fair, from Aug. 22- Aug. 27.

Over six years, he’s seen the branding at play inside Target Field, Allianz too, and in restaurants in Midtown Global Market, the Minneapolis downtown skyway, and now at the 3rd floor North End Food Hall at Mall of America.

Known for cheeky inserts on the trays teaching guests to give the perfect HI (Hot Indian) Five, and a discount offered to diners who do a Bollywood Dance at the register, Dixit’s brand has formed a connection with guests that Ultra Creative said was designed to make it stand out.

“The strong logo, a good experience, makes a big difference in somebody’s day,” Davis said.

Dixit said he knows the brand is key, but ultimately it comes down to the food.

“At the end of the day the food has to carry,” he said. “The brand can help bring people in, if the foods no good, no one’s gonna come back.”

Jason DeRusha